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Imogen Cooper

There are only a few things in music that can be more fun than listening to the Budapest Festival Orchestra play under paterfamilias Ivan Fischer. And one of them must surely be playing in the Budapest Festival Orchestra under their paterfamilias Ivan Fischer. Just look at these musicians’ goofy grins. But Fischer still keeps his musicians on his toes and they thrive on it. In Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No 1, that meant another one of his maverick seating decisions, putting the woodwind in a semi-circle around the podium. The rearrangement focused the ear on individual instruments, and their mini duets with the strings surrounding them. (Neil Fisher *****)

Neither Fischer nor his soloist, Imogen Cooper, were interested in pecking at any notes — there was a muscular drive to this performance that kept the listener in a constant and rather pleasing state of surprise. And the very spry Cooper sprang her own surprise on the orchestra when she plumped for Beethoven’s longer cadenza — a thrilling little rollercoaster. But she was at her very best in the final rondo, which seemed to burst out from her fingers as if a higher power was in control of them.

The rest was Hungarian. Erno Dohnányi’s lively Symphonic Minutes is not unlike a Richard Strauss tone poem, albeit flecked with native, folkish touches. Deliciously intimate writing for woodwind and strings, as well as some ripe chorales from the brass, were all lavished with style and individuality.

Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra took us to another level. It can be regarded as a showpiece. Fischer finds a more insidious glamour in one of Bartók’s final works, and this was a towering but also glowering depiction of mortality, culminating in the composer shedding his native reminiscences in the life- affirming American-tinged finale (even a percussionist dropping a tam-tam couldn’t dispel the tension). Fischer returned to the podium with what he said would be just one Brahms Hungarian Dance. As I left the orchestra appeared to be working through the entire collection.